Academic journal article Childhood Education

Asking Young Children to Tell the Story

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Asking Young Children to Tell the Story

Article excerpt

Before children learn to read and write, they are already making up and acting out little adventures. Although much of the dramatic play of 3- to 6-year-olds reflects straightforward imitations of home life, their play themes are by no means limited to such reality. On any given day in the classroom, children might be preparing a meal in the housekeeping area or scaring away grizzly bears at a makeshift campsite.

Television, picture books, field trips and influential adults provide young children with material for the scripts and stories of play. By the time children's dramatic play reaches its highest level of development, it has evolved into a cooperative multidimensional activity that produces interrelated action sequences and highly imaginative themes (Christie, 1991). A play session in which four children attempt to scare away a make-believe bear from their imaginary campsite illustrates this concept well as numerous interlinking actions and dialogues occur.

In some important respects, the fantasy and sociodramatic play of children can be viewed as a precursor to oral storytelling and story writing (Crowie, 1984; Galda, 1984). Narrative action structures embedded in sustained dramatic play frequently contain imaginary roles and events, similar to those found in children's early spoken and written stories (Heath, 1982; Sachs, Goldman & Chaille, 1985).

The verbal exchanges that accompany pretend play expose children to other views of the world and help them grasp the social and affective functions of narrative processes (Wolf, 1993). The following conversation from the campsite play session demonstrates how playmates learn from each other as they share their attitudes, habits and family lifestyles:

"If I eat these hot dogs without mustard, they won't be any good. My mom never lets us eat hot dogs for dinner, only for lunch. They cook real fast so we get to eat a lot of them."

"My dad hates hot dogs and my mom won't cook them."

Verbal exchanges of this nature provide children with opportunities to create text through play and to convey social mores that will eventually help them to comprehend written texts (Pellegrini, DeStefano & Thompson, 1983).

Research indicates that children must experience many types of dramatic play and storytelling to reach optimal language and literacy development. The responsibility for storytelling was once restricted to the teacher's domain. Renewed attention on developmentally appropriate practices, however, has shifted the responsibility to include the child. Children are now being asked to tell their own stories, including original make-believe versions and retellings of old favorites. Teachers are exploring ways to incorporate children's experiential background when guiding children to verbalize stories.

One instructional approach, the focus of this article, encourages teachers to guide children in narrating stories based on actual or imagined experiences, particularly those that transpire in the classroom. The authors discuss ways of incorporating events from dramatic play and everyday occurrences into storytelling activities. Story samplers exemplify the techniques that teachers can use to help young learners reconstruct narratives based on real experiences.

Story Samplers

Early childhood centers contain abundant raw material for framing stories. During children's natural extended conversations, they often exchange ideas and anecdotes. These real opportunities furnish ideas for interesting stories in which children order their thoughts and make sense of their classroom experiences. The following four story samplers depict diverse types of interaction found in large groups, small groups, partnerships and individual formats. An explanation of the classroom activity or story source provides the background.

Spontaneous Experience Story Starter (Large Group)

Many whole group opportunities can be transformed into stories. …

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